Come for the Hardware, Stay for the Apps

Smartphone buyers are still making buying decisions based on hardware, but the apps are what’s changing their lives, connecting them to the Internet, and in many cases, lessening their dependency on other gadgets, according to a report from Deloitte.

Deloitte found that 58 percent of the almost 2,000 respondents reported that their main criteria for buying a smartphone were quality, camera, size, keyboard and price. Just 18 percent said apps and their functionality influenced their buying decision. This would seem to echo a recent Pew Internet study that found only 35 percent of people have apps on their phones, and only 25 percent actually use them. For all their growth in the last couple of years, apps aren’t quite mainstream yet.

But here’s the thing: Once people start using the apps, many are finding it’s changing their habits and relationships with other devices. Among app users, 42 percent have diminished or lessened their use of MP3 players, and 38 percent have done the same with AM/FM radios. Another 30 percent favor their phone over handheld gaming devices, and 28 percent are avoiding their GPS personal navigation devices.

A few other bits of data: 62 percent said having access to certain apps have caused them to use their phone in places they wouldn’t before, and 41 percent of users use their smartphone as a laptop replacement while away from home. Users are still learning about the benefits of apps, which despite Apple’s (s aapl) many ads, is still an education process. But once people get going using them, they see how useful the tiny programs are, specifically in getting them easy access to content or services on the Internet. According to the Pew study, the average adult app user has 18 apps.

This jibes with a report from Finnish mobile analytics company Zokem which reported that half of mobile data volume happens now through apps, not a browser. People are realizing that apps are like a quick on-ramp to the Internet and provide usefulness that rivals, and in some cases eclipses, a mobile browser.

Ed Moran, director of Insight and Innovation at Deloitte, said app makers, smartphone manufacturers and carriers need to do a better job explaining how smartphones have become computers in your pocket, capable of doing a lot of things you can’t do on a PC. He also said making apps easier to use will also increase their adoption. As that happens, app use will only go up, he said.

While hardware is still the lure for many buyers, it’s the apps and the Internet access they offer that should become a major selling point in the future.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user dougbelshaw.

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